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Jeff Ulbrich Has Plenty to Pass On to Players as Head Coach During Senior Bowl Week

Jets Defensive Coordinator's Message to National Team in Mobile: 'Alleviate All the Stress ... and Just Let It Rip'

FILE - New York Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich walks the sideline during an NFL preseason football game against the Carolina Panthers, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, in Charlotte, N.C. Tennessee Titans defensive line coach Terrell Williams and New York Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich will serve as head coaches at the Senior Bowl. (AP Photo/Brian Westerholt, File)

Mobile means Senior Bowl. The Alabama port city has played host to the preeminent college football all-star game for almost 75 years. It was a game that Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich participated in early in 2000 that helped steer his path to the NFL. And this week it's the game for which Ulbrich is serving as a head coach.

And as he stood on the field at the University of South Alabama's Hancock Whitney Stadium, home to the game for the fourth consecutive year, Ulbrich took a little time to reminisce about his visit to Mobile as an undersized senior linebacker out of the University of Hawai'i almost a quarter century ago.

"That was the class of John Abraham and Brian Urlacher and LaVar Arrington, all bigger linebackers," Ulbrich told NFL Network under the clear blue 'Bama skies. "They flew my wife out for this game. We came all the way from Hawai'i, so we're talking about a 10-hour flight, a six-hour time difference — I'm already in space.

"And I still remember my wife running down to the sidelines from the stands and saying, 'Honey, you've got to stay away from Brian. He's making you look really little.' That's one of my fondest memories of that game. But in all honesty, it's the reason I got drafted where I got drafted."

The 6-0, 240-pound Ulbrich was selected in the third round, 86th overall, of the 2000 draft by San Francisco, and went on to play in 120 games with 75 starts and compile 501 tackles in his 10 pro seasons, all with the 49ers. Then he began his coaching odyssey, which has taken him to the Jets, where he has coordinated the team's defense into these last two seasons of top-five performance and has received this assignment to pass on what he knows about today's game to this year's crop of seniors.

"That's the biggest part of it, just controlling the controllables," he said of his opening message to his National team. "We have this concept back in New York about heart-mind-fist. It's all about your DNA and the way you operate and your process and your attitude, so alleviate all the stress, all the angst, all the expectations, and just let it rip. Just remind yourself every day as you drive up to this field that this is the game you've played since you were a little kid."

Now all those little kids are young men, embarking on the process that will take them to the NFL Combine, pro day workouts and through the draft onto their first NFL rosters. Ulbrich had another reminder, that the Senior Bowl game itself on Saturday won't loom quite as larget as the drills the players participate in over the next several days.

"The one-on-ones," he said of the most important work they may do in Mobile. "I told these guys, as an evaluator of talent this part of the year, that might be the most important thing that we evaluate this week is the one-on-one stuff, so I'm excited about that. We've got some really cool matchups, and it'll be competitive and give the guys a great opportunity to show what they are."

The Jets have a close relationship with the all-star game, beginning with the seven Senior Bowls in which Weeb Ewbank, Pro Football Hall of Famer and Jets Ring of Honor inaugural member, served as head coach. The Jets coaching staff has been a Senior Bowl staff five times, most recently in 2022 when TEs coach Ron Middleton was the winning head coach.

Al Dorow, the New York Titans' QB in the franchise's first year of existence in 1960, was a Senior Bowl MVP (1952) as were Jets first-rounders Blair Thomas (1990) and Chad Pennington (2000). Joe Namath (1965) was selected for the 50th Anniversary Senior Bowl All-Time Team by fan voting in 1999. Namath, Ewbank, Richard Todd, Curtis Martin, Kevin Mawae, Tony Richardson, Abraham and Jets GM Dick Steinberg were among those with Green & White ties selected for the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame.

Some players are sure to come out of Mobile this week and find their way north to One Jets Drive in the months and years ahead. And Ulbrich, who has received some buzz as an NFL head coaching candidate down the road, had the same supportive message for his team members to take away from their Senior Bowl experience starting with Tuesday's first practice of the week.

"It was an opportunity for me to show myself as a football player," he said. "And these guys are going to do the same thing today."

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